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Preparation is the Key to Becoming a Better Outsourcing Client

We have all read stories where outsourcing deals go wrong, and generally, it is the supplier who gets the blame for not delivering on time and budget. Anyone who has worked in IT will know that projects rarely fail just because of a supplier, but they make for easy targets. Moreover, the media doesn't mention many success stories where projects succeed. When an outsourcing engagement is successful, it's because a partnership and collaborative mindset was present, and the client came prepared.

Many clients make the assumption that suppliers should deliver exactly what you need when you need it, and quickly respond to changes in demand without regular communication. How many times have you requested just "one more small change" from one of your service providers? How can small changes have such a huge impact on project delivery times and quality? Well often because the small changes are requested daily so it disturbs the operating rhythm of the development teams. Whilst not deliberate, projects are sometimes set up for failure well before the supplier is onboard, due to broken internal processes, managing expectations poorly and making the wrong assumptions.

Part of the problem is that the business requirements and technology constantly change. It was difficult enough to manage these changes when the IT team was sitting next to you, but now you have the additional barrier of them being in another location and sometimes offshore. The development team has to be able to respond quickly to these changes. You need to collaborate with the technical team and make sure they understand the nature and dynamics of your business. They can give you their insights into what the system's core or infrastructural needs should be over time. If you are not available to put in the time up front, don't get involved with outsourcing as the supplier will not stand a chance of doing a successful delivery.

Choosing the right methodology for your business is also critical before you decide to outsource parts of IT development. Agile development techniques can help everyone concerned by embracing changes in requirements and priorities, promoting close collaboration, providing continuous feedback and risk-management controls, and enabling the development process to be transparent. However, even these techniques need you & the business experts.

A balance needs to be struck between collaborating with the outsourcer and intruding in their space. You know your business, and your outsourcer knows technology. You know what you want, and your outsourcer knows how to design and build a quality product. The best results come from keeping these lines clean and using each other's areas of expertise.

Here are a few tips to be a better Outsourcing customer:
- Understand what you need from a partner... cost saving, innovation, flexibility. They very rarely all go together.
- Research what is available in the market. Shortlist possible partners and interview them.
- Don't assume that your outsourcer knows anything about your business.
- Be open-minded and forward-thinking, and actively collaborate with the outsourcer.
- Focus on defining and articulating what your requirements and priorities are.
- Retain the business knowledge & talent in-house to execute & integrate projects.
- Let the outsourcer define how it gets done.
- Manage expectations effectively in-house so the various directors know about the new partner & services.
- Define what is success for both parties, build metrics so you can measure progress & celebrate when you achieve the goals.
- Respect each other and let the results define success.

Most of the tips seem like common sense, but you would be surprised by how rare common sense is in 21st century business environment. People often forget the basics of managing a service and relationships, but if you are willing to put in some time up front as a client it will ensure a much higher degree of success when it comes to beginning the project.  

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